Free Record Sealing Clinic Offers Coloradans a Second Chance

Free Record Sealing Clinic Offers Coloradans a Second Chance
Westword/Getty Images
Long after you pay fines and serve time, a criminal record can stand in your way of obtaining house and job opportunities.

To help people navigate how they can leave the system behind, the Second Chance Center is hosting a free record-sealing clinic on Saturday, October 2. And even If you don’t have a criminal record, chances are good that you know someone who does.

According to Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2018, which pulled from U.S. Department of Justice figures, Colorado houses 1.9 million criminal records, ranging from criminal speeding offenses to first-degree murder.

“There's a number of circumstances where someone could be applying for a specific job, or a specific type of housing where sealing that record is going to make a huge difference,” explains Jennifer Zimmerman, a managing partner at Dolan + Zimmerman. “I think those people need an avenue to be able to argue their case to the court.”

Sealing a record prevents it from showing up on most background checks for jobs and housing,though it remains accessible to certain court staff, law enforcement and victims. Only expunged records are completely erased from the system.

In recent years, Colorado has moved to allow more people to seal their records, even automating the process for some drug offenses beginning in 2024. But many cases are complicated, and people with backgrounds often have questions about how new laws might apply to them.

“It makes things a lot tougher,” says Bobby, a Denver resident who filed to seal his record in June with the help of a defense attorney and asked that his last name not be used. “I think there's kind of prejudice or bias when you look at those things, and you try to move on.”

Bobby was arrested in 2002 on charges of “threats to injure a person.” He says he fell in with the wrong crowd after suffering traumatic brain injury in a car crash and dropping out of high school. But the birth of his daughter changed everything: He worked to turn his life around, serving as a medic in the Army during the Iraq War and going from obtaining a GED to earning an MBA.

Although he qualifies for better positions in his field, Bobby says he is held back by his criminal record. “Where I'm at now, I probably reach out five-plus times a week for different job opportunities through LinkedIn,” Bobby says. “There's definitely more opportunity out there, but for fear of damaging your reputation, you just don't apply.”

Bobby’s petition is currently pending before a judge.

“Part of the reason I do this work is, I just believe no one's ever beyond redemption,” says Tyler Selcer, a defense attorney at the Law Office of Jacob E. Martinez. “I understand there is a public interest in having access to things like driving records and sexually based offenses, but otherwise, I feel like if you do what you're asked to do, you do it respectfully and you uphold your end of the bargain, you should be able to eventually move on.”

According to the 2020 Paper Prisons analysis, Colorado had cleared 5 percent of records then eligible for sealing. At that rate, it would take the state 106 years to clear the rest of the backlog. Will recent legislative action and nonprofit clinics help dent the pile? Only time will tell.

The fourth annual free record-sealing event, which is co-hosted by nonprofits Expunge Colorado and the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 2, at Second Chance Center, 224 Potomac Street in Aurora. Food and child care will be available; get more details below.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amanda Pampuro cut her teeth reporting for the Mariana’s Variety and is now the Denver correspondent for Courthouse News. When she’s not freelancing or writing fiction, she enjoys making slightly-burnt baked goods.
Contact: Amanda Pampuro